Throughout the United States, stem cell therapy is being touted as a miracle cure for everything from wrinkles to spinal repair.

Though very few of these applications have any scientific backing, stem cell therapy for knees has been the subject of quite a few promising studies.

Arthritis develops when the cartilage lining the joints starts to deteriorate, causing pain and limiting function. Osteoarthritis is incredibly common. Arthritis and similar conditions are a major cause of disability in the United States.

Every year about 600,000 Americans get a knee replacement, a number that could rise to 3 million by 2030. Until recently, treatment options were either temporary or surgical.

Now, in numerous cases, stem cell therapy for knees is reducing pain and repairing cartilage. As a result, many people have been able to improve their quality of life and avoid surgery.

As studies continue, the forms and combinations of stem cell preparations are improving, and outcomes are expected to improve as well.

The job of adult stem cells is to maintain and heal tissues by replenishing damaged and dying cells. In some areas of the body, such as the knee, blood supply is limited, so stem cells don’t work as well as they should.

Alternatively, though, they can be injected, at which point they appear to initiate the self-recovery process.

The usual job of joint cartilage is to promote smooth movement of joint surfaces and protect bones from friction. This process allows for shock absorption of up to 20 times the weight of the body. It’s essential to physical movement, especially in athletics.

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common chronic degenerative disorders and it very often affects the knee, causing deterioration of its joint cartilage over time.

Osteoarthritis can also begin as a result of a knee injury, such as a ligament tear, tendon damage, or a fracture.

In the face of damage, the joint becomes unstable and this wears down the articular cartilage. From there, the bone can suffer damage as well, in addition to the synovial joint lining, tendons, ligaments, and muscles.

Stem cell therapy for knees is minimally invasive. It’s a procedure that can decrease inflammation, slow and repair all these forms of damage from arthritis, and delay or prevent knee replacement surgery.

Stem cell knee injections

Adult stem cells can be extracted from bone marrow or fat through simple methods. It’s then concentrated and injected into the knee with image guidance, usually to successful results.

In one study, patients experienced improvement in both knees even though only one knee was injected. Although natural deterioration of the knee continues, at five years, those knees that are injected with stem cells are in better shape than they were before the injections.

Researchers believe that stem cell therapy for the knee works by:

  • developing into essential cartilage cells
  • thwarting the inflammation that can worsen arthritis
  • releasing proteins called cytokines that slow degeneration of cartilage and reduce pain

Ongoing research is striving to determine which stem cell knee therapy techniques, cell choices, and dosages yield the most effective and consistent results.

While some seem more potent than others and overall results are promising, more research is needed.

Side effects

Stem cell treatment for knees is noninvasive and rarely painful. Side effects are minimal.

The most frequent experiences after the procedure include mild pain at the injection site, swelling, and some joint stiffness.

A review of multiple medical institutions reveals an average cost for stem cell treatment for knees of approximately $3,000 to $5,000 per knee, depending largely on geographical location.

Most insurance companies don’t cover stem cell injections yet, but that may be starting to change as more research accumulates showing the effectiveness of the process.

People typically complete the procedure in one visit, but usually have an initial consultation and a follow-up appointment. The injections take approximately two to three hours.

Although stem cell therapy can pose serious risks when performed on other parts of the body, such as the eyes or the spine, it’s relatively safe when performed on the knees.

Stem cell therapy using adult stem cells is safest because the stem cells are collected from the person’s own body. This reduces the risk of a bad reaction.

Risks are increased if:

  • different types of stem cell is used
  • stem cells are taken from the patient but then grown in the lab over time
  • stem cells are mixed with other mediums or chemicals

Because this is such a new area, new research is released frequently.

While the FDA is closely watching stem cell therapy developments, the only applications that are approved involve embryonic stem cells to treat blood or immune system disorders.

If you’re experiencing knee pain or limited knee mobility, alternative initial treatments might include anti-inflammatory medications, opioid pain medications, or physical therapy.

Alternative treatments include injections with platelet-rich plasma, hyaluronic acid, or steroids.

Surgical treatments may be tried as well, such as arthroscopy, subchondral bone drilling, or microfracture.

Stem cell therapy for knees is still very new and the FDA is proceeding with caution, but studies so far are very promising.

Many people have successfully avoided knee surgery and side effects are minimal for this particular body part.